Bob Denard – French mercenary and white sultan of the Comoros

In Paris, Ahmed Abdallah hired the French mercenary Bob Denard to make a coup in the Comoros to depose the dictator Ali Soilih. Denard placed ads in the Sud Ouest and Figaro newspapers that read, “Overseas security and protection company seeks cadres of all levels, in good physical condition – preference given to those having served in elite corps as commandos and paratroopers.” He received 4,000 replies. He hired 29 men.

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On 13 May 1978, in the middle of the night, Denard and the Clandestine Liberation Force arrived in a trawler off the Comoran coast. A key figure in the coup plan was businessman Christian Olagaray who had become disenchanted with Ali Soilih. While the mercenaries were anchoring off the coast, Olagaray was getting Ali drunk in his hillside retreat. When the president was drunk, curled up asleep on the sofa with two teenage mistresses, Olagaray radioed Denard and the coup proceeded as planned. Dressed in black, their faces darkened with charcoal, the mercenaries drifted ashore in black Zodiacs. 

One group of mercenaries headed for the Voidjou camp and easily captured the sleeping Garde Presidentielle. Denard and his men headed for the presidential palace. There they surprised and disarmed the sentinels guarding Ali and found him sleeping naked in the grand salon with his concubines. Groggy from liquor and hashish, Ali surrendered without resistance, as if he had been expecting Denard.

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Ali was told in prison that a tribunal had condemned him to death. He was given a choice. The door of his cell would be left open and if he chose to leave, he would be shot for trying to escape. If he stayed, the tribunal would dishonor him by executing him as a common criminal. Ali was a proud man and wanted to die with some dignity. With his head held high, he walked into the courtyard and was cut down by a tirade of machine gun bullets.

Having liberated the island, the mercenaries were driven through the streets of Moroni in open jeeps, smiling and waving to cheering crowds, shaking hands with Comoron soldiers. A banner saying, “Merci, Bob” hung from a building thanking the mercenary for liberating the country. Young people were singing and dancing in the streets as grateful women swarmed around the mercenaries, hanging leis of fragrant ylang ylang flowers around their necks.

Denard took the name Said Mustapha Mahdjoub and sometimes wore a turban and flowing white robes. He was administered the Oath of the Battling Sultans, given the wealth of empires and made the Comoros a buccaneering base for mercenaries.

My story on Bob Denard in the Comoros is available on 


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